Gulf journal: Whale research group a ‘voice from the sea’ »

Docked in Gloucester, Massachusetts, is a 93-foot vessel that’s circumnavigated the world doing whale research. For three laborious weeks, volunteer Jim Casey helped make sure the Odyssey was ready for its mission to explore marine life in the oily Gulf of Mexico.

 

Casey put in hard work painting and refitting the boat for its lengthy voyage down the coast of New England to the Gulf of Mexico. The self-described amateur filmmaker captured the crew’s preparations and brought this story to light on CNN iReport.

 

The Gloucester native volunteered with Ocean Alliance, a nonprofit group of whale and marine researchers. His hometown is the oldest seaport in the U.S. and has a rich maritime history steeped in its fishing industry. These days, that industry is dying and locals such as Casey are turning to whale research groups instead.

 

“It was really a privilege to be part of something,” he said. “Everybody’s so appalled about what’s happening in the Gulf. Just to be able to do something is the little way I can contribute.”

 

Once the Odyssey sailed off into the high seas on July 5, Casey bid the vessel adieu and followed the Odyssey researchers’ work from afar.

 

Ocean Alliance and the University of Southern Maine will be studying the Gulf’s marine life for the next three months. The group of ten would like to observe whales and grow cell lines to see how species react to various toxins in the Gulf. All of this is taking place aboard the Odyssey, the only cell-line laboratory at sea in the world, according to Ocean Alliance.

 

The group aims to be a “voice from the sea,” says Ocean Alliance CEO Iain Kerr. He says the team wants to contribute independent research and analysis about this environmental disaster.

 

As the Odyssey makes its way to the Gulf, scientists are collecting samples along the way so they have a basis of what marine life is like now, just in case the oil creeps up the Atlantic Coast.

 

When it comes to sampling, the group will be catching fish, trolling for plankton and biopsying whales. A specially designed biopsy dart is the secret to gathering whale tissue. Once fired from a crossbow, the dart skims the whale and removes a tissue sample the size of a pencil eraser. These mammals the size of school buses usually don’t flinch, and Kerr insists the procedure doesn’t hurt.

 

These samples will then be grown in petri dishes, where researchers will expose the cells to contaminants. Kerr says it will take years of sampling and testing on return trips to determine the full effects of the oil disaster.

 

The Odyssey is set to reach Fort Lauderdale, Florida, this weekend to pick up more supplies before cruising to Mobile, Alabama. Kerr will only be on the boat intermittently, as his CEO duties and paperwork often bring him ashore. As for Casey, he’s been reading the ship’s logs online and calling the ship’s captain to make sure everything’s going according to plan.

 

Editor's Note: This blog post is part of a series of profiles of Gulf Coast residents and visitors directly affected by the oil disaster. If you'd like to share your story, you can upload photos and videos to CNN iReport.

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zdan
// July 27, 2010
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Posted in: oil_disaster, stories
Gulf journals: Designers get their hands dirty »

 

Four friends and designers were looking for away to give back over their summer break. With a simple goal of volunteering their time, the Pennsylvania and Maryland 20-somethings decided to pack their bags for a month and head south to the Mississippi Gulf to get their hands dirty and educate others on oil relief efforts.

 

The team of four, Brian Mezzi, Charles Beal, Erin Surrock and Dan Malihom, calls itself Designers Giving Back, or DGB, and that’s exactly what they do. DBG teamed up with United Way of South Mississippi and has been exploring the Gulf Coast for the past month volunteering with oil relief projects and using their design skills to document the oil disaster. They’ve been sharing their photos and stories through their blog and Twitter account in hopes of educating people on the situation in the Gulf. They believe that design can help solve the problem in the Gulf.

 

“Design itself solves problems. You have a problem and you come up with a design solution,” Surrock said.

 

Mezzi went to the Gulf last March on an alternative spring break program with United Way to help residents still affected by Katrina. It was Mezzi’s idea to return to the Gulf for a month to help with oil relief efforts. Mezzi recruited Beal, Surrock and Malihom to join him.

 

“We’d rather be doing something productive than just doing something, and I think that is what ties us all together,” Surrock said. “We find this work very rewarding. I couldn't think of a better way to spend a month.”

 

After a 22-hour drive, three of the designers arrived in Biloxi, Mississippi, on June 19 and Malihom arrived a week later by plane. As soon as they arrived, DGB started setting up volunteer response centers to help connect people with volunteer opportunities such as CostalWatch, where volunteers walk the beach and report oil to response units. During their time at the response centers, DGB sent the first iReport reporting on initial signs of oil in the Biloxi area. Just 24-hours later, the team returned to that same spot to find the beach was covered with oil and tar

 

“This is the first time we’ve seen oil and probably won’t be the last. It was a very weird feeling to be holding these objects and feel how sticky and thick the substance was. We can’t even fathom how it must feel to be an animal covered from head to toe in oil. Completely helpless,” Surrock wrote on the team’s blog.

 

Eventually DGB helped United Way hand over the response centers to AmeriCorps and the team went to work with the Audubon Society in Pascagoula, Mississippi, documenting the disaster in a short video they will produce for the society.

 

On countless drives from Ocean Springs to Long Beach to Waveland – all in Mississippi – the team documented what they saw on their blog, on Twitter and on iReport.

 

Today, the team prepared for the 22-hour drive back home. The were packing their bags and posting goodbyes on Twitter.

 

All four expressed hope that the Gulf will recover, but said they know it will take a lot of effort. DGB wants to create awareness of the disaster through their work so people will not forget about what is happening in the Gulf once the next big news event happens.

 

Editor's Note: This blog post is part of a series of profiles of Gulf Coast residents and visitors directly affected by the oil disaster. If you'd like to share your story, you can upload photos and videos to CNN iReport.

Posted by: ccostello3 // July 14, 2010
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Posted in: oil_disaster, stories
Gulf journals: Marine biologist's worst day »

 

Flying over the Gulf of Mexico in a small plane, Wallace J. Nichols scanned the oil-laden water for signs of sea turtles. Not seeing any and realizing the massive impact of the oil disaster made this his “worst day as a marine biologist.”

 

“Seeing that much ocean destroyed by a single catastrophic accident for anybody is a shock, but for somebody who spends his life trying to fix what's broken in the ocean, it's a devastating experience,” he said.

 

Nichols recalls his disheartening aerial experience in this video.

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zdan
// July 12, 2010
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Posted in: oil_disaster, stories
Gulf journals: Lost soles found on an oiled Florida beach »



A solitary flip-flop sits in the white sand of Pensacola, Florida, with chunky bits of goo spilled on top and to the side like chocolate sauce. The large amount of oil that washed on shore June 23 had just marred the coastline. Randy Hamilton spots the sandal, captures a photo and files it in his archives as specimen 359. Just another lost shoe for his collection of forgotten footwear photos, but this one is different. It speaks to yet another crisis in his land and in his life.

Hamilton still remembers when Hurricane Ivan came through the region in 2004 and changed everything. His Pensacola house was irreparably damaged by the storm, so he and his wife decided to hit the road for life in a motor home. The graphic designer and photographer didn't want a permanent home, and one year on the road ultimately turned to four. Shortly after taking off in the motor home, he started a project called the One Shoe Diaries to showcase the photos and stories of finding unmatched shoes wherever he went. The first shoe was from Pensacola when he returned briefly to inspect his damaged house. The website brought him national attention and provided him with an outlet to share updates on the upcoming birth of baby son Noah.

The couple eventually returned to Pensacola to put down roots and prepare for Noah's birth. When the child was stillborn, the shoes website provided a source of therapy and comfort. Then, another big change entered their lives, the birth of a healthy baby girl, Nora. Hamilton tries to take a photo of his "rainbow baby" just about every day.

Now that the oil disaster has come to the Gulf Coast, he sees its effects through his daughter's eyes.

"Especially with a newborn child, I'm like, 'Will she be able to see these things the way I saw them? Is it going to be toxic for her?' "

Hamilton said he views the photo of the oil-stained flip-flop as a metaphor for the region as a whole:

"The white sand is completely like our tourist industry, stained and oiled. … That day that I went out there with the flip-flop was probably the worst. It was in, like, puddles, which drove me nuts because there were all these crews standing around."

Photo 360 was another flip-flop on the beach, this one pink. Even though the oil is less visible now, he says he can dig through the sand and find tar balls and other evidence of local effects.

"It's almost surreal. It almost does not sound like it could be real,” he said. “It's devastating. It makes my heart sink."

But Hamilton has weathered many storms and remains hopeful.

"This isn't our first tragedy. It's not our first rodeo; you know what I'm saying? But it's still pretty devastating."

Editor's Note: This blog post is part of a series of profiles of Gulf Coast residents and visitors directly affected by the oil disaster. If you'd like to share your story, you can upload photos and videos to CNN iReport.

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nsaidi
// July 9, 2010
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Posted in: stories, oil_disaster
Gulf journals: Sticking with the shore, come what may »

 

He's not leaving the coast, not yet. Lee Ford of Gulf Shores, Alabama, moved to another home just a few miles down the shore after his rental home went belly-up.

 

He says he had no choice other than to move because his landlord asked him to leave. The landlord was having trouble staying afloat, and the property value of Ford's home was steadily declining. Ford says he spent about three weeks stumbling to find a place before he relocated. He blames the oil disaster in part for hurting the local economy and getting him into this situation.

 

"I wasn't too happy about moving, but you got to do what you got to do. We just basically decided that since we got to move, we've got to suck it up and find another place."

 

The new place is only about 20 miles away and still in the Gulf Shores area. When Ford thought about moving his family somewhere else, he realized that he's committed to living in Gulf Shores and optimistic that things will get better in about a year. And, perhaps more importantly, he says he's not sure where else he could go; he figures he might as well ride out the crisis on the beach he loves.

 

"It affects for miles in as well. It's not going to matter how far we go, there's a ripple effect. We're trying to get out of a recession, and that's not going too smoothly."

 

That's not to say things are easy. Ford lost his heating and cooling job shortly after the oil disaster first began. One day the phone rang and his boss was on the line; he said business was significantly down and there was no way to keep Ford on. Hints of occasional work with his old company fell through as well, and he says he's been unable to find any employment since then. He and his family are subsisting on small government disability checks for now.

 

He says the oil disaster has also taken a big emotional toll on his community.

 

"There's definitely fear in the people," Ford said. "I've talked to neighbors, and they can't go on the beaches. You can tell in their voices that they're not happy. Some of the businesses I've walked into, they're like, 'We're down 75 percent of where we were last year.' "

 

As time went on, the oil gradually started coming on shore and Ford said it seemed to be getting worse. He shot video June 26 showing oil washing up on the beach by Fort Morgan. In the video, a line of black oil residue accumulates across the otherwise white shore and smudges imprints of the waterline like charcoal crayons in the hands of a preschooler. He says he plans to capture more images of the oil and is glad that technology affords him the opportunity to have his voice heard.

 

Something that bothers him a lot is the oil disaster's effects on fishing, one of his favorite hobbies. That's on hold, for now, and he says it's depressing. Lately he looks out and instead of seeing the white beaches, he sees water with a murky tinge.

 

"Even if the oil doesn't show, still, right now I can see the water from where I'm at. When the water washes up, it's brown, so I know there's oil in the water."

 

Ultimately, Ford says he believes the Gulf will survive if everyone hangs on tight until things are resolved, which could take some time. He hopes to be there when it does.

 

"I'm just glad somebody's listening," he said. "We do what we've got to do to keep on going. It's not easy to get through this here."

 

Editor's Note: This blog post is part of a series of profiles of Gulf Coast residents and visitors directly affected by the oil disaster. If you'd like to share your story, you can upload photos and videos to CNN iReport.

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nsaidi
// July 7, 2010
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Posted in: oil_disaster
Gulf journals: Disheartened by the disaster »

Several times a year, Cory Sisco and his wife retreat to Orange Beach, Alabama, to visit Sisco’s family and enjoy the coast. But with the oil disaster hanging over the area, their most recent visit had a different purpose.

 

Sisco and his wife, Elizabeth, visited the area May 28, just over a month after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, threatening dozens of coastal communities like Orange Beach. The couple lives in Baltimore, Maryland, and planned to use their vacation time in Orange Beach to volunteer to help relief efforts. At the time, there was not much for them to do, as the oil was still far from shore. But they plan to go back as soon as possible to help with cleanup efforts.

 

Sisco’s parents keep him updated on the oil disaster each day through phone calls, e-mails and photos, and Sisco has been sharing their updates with CNN iReport. His parents have sent him several photos of the giant booms that are being placed around Orange Beach and nearby Perdido Pass to protect the beaches and close off bays from the oil.

 

Sisco, who lived in Orange Beach for two years, still talks about the area like it’s home. “It appears that we are permanently blocked, which I guess is a good thing,” he said. “We are so used to seeing our open, beautiful water. Now, you look out there, and you see these things that have never been there before.”

 

His parents have also expressed concerns that BP cleaning crews are not working hard enough.

 

They told him about visiting Johnson Beach in Pensacola, Florida, and seeing crews driving up and down the beach in golf carts, not cleaning, during a two-hour span. His parents spoke to a local volunteer who was very upset about the lack of actual cleaning by BP and said he was so frustrated that he “just wanted to get out of there.” The volunteer said he tried to inform BP crew workers of where the oil was, but the company would not listen.

 

A spokesman for the Deepwater Response Team was not able to comment on this specific incident. He said that most of the cleaning is being done at night because of the extreme heat and that the number of breaks workers are required to take depends on several conditions, such as the weather.

 

Like most other Gulf residents, Sisco is very concerned about what is happening to the environment and is not sure what to expect.

 

“It’s a dark hole of uncertainty,” he said.  “How long is it going to be before it’s the same?”

 

Editor's Note: This blog post is part of a series of profiles of Gulf Coast residents and visitors directly affected by the oil disaster. If you'd like to share your story, you can upload photos and videos to CNN iReport.

Posted by: ccostello3 // July 6, 2010
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Posted in: stories, oil_disaster
Gulf journals: Murals give voice to fury over oil disaster »


“About 28 days into [the oil disaster], I decided I needed to yell as loud as I could,” said tattoo artist Bobby Pitre, owner of Southern Sting Tattoo Parlor in Larose, Louisiana. “I figured I could yell 24 hours a day if I had a street side sculpture.”


So after placing that sculpture in front of his store, he enlisted the aid of a fellow tattoo artist, Eric Guidry, to start expressing their feelings about the crisis in the form of several large murals.


“I knew the fishermen were extremely upset about losing out on their shrimping season and quite possibly, their way of life,” Pitre said. “I felt I had to paint a vivid picture in the public’s mind to get them to truly understand the severity of this horrific tragedy.”


Part of his mural portrays BP as the “grim reaper,” with the phrase, “You killed our Gulf … our way of life!”


Pitre said, “Everything we do leisurely has something to do with the marsh. We enjoy fishing and swimming. It’s everything that I’ve learned as a kid, growing up on the water.”


Pitre’s family has lived on the marsh for as long as he can remember. His parents lived and died there. His uncle is a fisherman there as well.


Guidry also grew up in the area, and the mural pictured is one of the first paintings he has done of this size.


“I use it to relieve myself from all the crap that’s going on around here,” he said.


Both painted a version of Shepard Fairey’s well-known 2008 portrait of President Obama, with question marks surrounding it and the words “What now?”


Pitre did not vote for Obama, but Guidry did. “In my honest opinion, I do not believe that our leaders responded to this disaster quickly enough,” Guidry said.


Guidry said he thinks that their paintings express the true feelings of many in the Gulf: “People don’t know what to say and might be too scared to say it.”


Pitre and Guidry’s murals have been seen all over CNN iReport. Pitre posed next to his paintings in a report on CNN.com, and a sign next to those was featured on the Political Ticker, and on a CNN TV report on Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s presidential prospects. (“He knows what needs to be done and it’s a matter of him getting the power he needs to get it done,” Pitre said of the governor.)


In the past few weeks, Pitre and Guidry have been inspired to create more art, moving it inside the tattoo parlor. BP CEO Tony Hayward is portrayed as a donkey with the words “Burro of bad news” above. Pitre painted it in reaction to Hayward’s recent yachting trip, soon after testifying before lawmakers about the oil disaster in Washington. “My question is, ‘How will BP, or anyone else ever make this up to us?’ ”


Editor's Note: This blog post is part of a series of profiles of Gulf Coast residents and visitors directly affected by the oil disaster. If you'd like to share your story, you can upload photos and videos to CNN iReport.

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hhanks
// July 2, 2010
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Posted in: stories, oil_disaster
Gulf journals: 'What can you do?' »

 

Karen Baker, a self-described army brat, has lived in many places, such as Germany and North Carolina, to name a couple. But when she was 8 years old, she moved to Gulfport, Mississippi, and has lived there ever since.

 

“The people here are so friendly. There is nothing more relaxing than going down to the beach and watching the sunset and the birds and what used to be the sweet smell of the sea,” she said.

 

Baker, who proudly calls herself a beach bum and tree-hugger, said that until this week, she visited the beach each day no matter how hot or cold it was. Now, it’s been a couple days since Baker last visited. She said that it was mentally difficult to be at the beach last Tuesday and see the oil wash up on shore. Baker remains hopeful that the Gulf will survive through this disaster, but says that the oil leak needs to be stopped before the region can begin to move on.

 

“There’s a sense of hopelessness about this. After a hurricane you can do something, before a hurricane you can do something, but after this, what can you do really? I guess we aren’t used to being in a position where we don’t know what to do with something like this. We will figure it out, but at this point we are taking it day by day.”

 

Baker has worked at C.F. Gollott & Son Seafood, a seafood processor, since August 1991, and she is fearful of the possibility of her losing her job and the company going under due to the price of seafood doubling because of the oil disaster.

 

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Baker said. “In these situations you don’t really know what the future will be.”

 

The company, which has been around since 1932, gets all its seafood from the Gulf and it is one of the only processors left in the area. She said that the other factories in the area have either closed up or have decided to rely on imports for their seafood.

 

Baker is also very worried about the effects that the oil will have the birds that have made the Gulf their home for so many years.

 

Lately she’s noticed fewer birds around Gulfport. “Usually the area of this beach is home to black skimmers, seagulls, sandpipers and plovers,” she said. “They just aren't there and haven't been for a few weeks.”

 

Starting tomorrow, Baker will be volunteering at Pascagoula River Audubon, a society that coordinates rescue efforts for oiled birds. She said she’s glad to help during such a difficult time.

 

“It makes me feel better that I can do a little bit,” Baker said. “The Gulf coast has been a safe haven for many birds and they aren’t safe now. They have always been there, even after Katrina, the bird and the sea has always been there.”

 

Editor's Note: This blog post is part of a series of profiles of Gulf Coast residents and visitors directly affected by the oil disaster. If you'd like to share your story, you can upload photos and videos to CNN iReport.

Posted by: ccostello3 // July 1, 2010
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Posted in: stories, oil_disaster
Gulf journals: Where is everybody? »



Like a scene from a classic "Twilight Zone" episode, the Gulf Coast city looked like a ghost town in the middle of vacation season. No tourists, no activity.

Jonathan Nateghi-Asli visited oil-soaked Grand Isle, Louisiana, on June 23 after doing Hurricane Katrina relief work in New Orleans with seven teens and two adults from his church in tow. The Washington-area resident has made the trip down about three times per year since October 2005, shortly after the storm came. This time, they came to work on a local church.

After all that labor, he says the group used their day off to visit what was, in his words, "another disaster in the making." The scene was familiar and maybe even a bit unsettling.

"The town of Grand Isle is very desolate," he described. "It reminds me of what New Orleans looked like after Katrina. Lots of military vehicles parked; no damage to homes, but very quiet and serene. This town should be very busy this time of year."

The group walked on the pier in Grand Isle State Park and drove through the town. Nateghi-Asli saw booms on the water and rental signs up on homes, but no people except for workers in tents, sitting and waiting to be deployed. For the most part, he and his church group were the only ones around. Fishing boats stayed tied up in canals, and there appeared to be a layer of oil on the water and in the scent of the air. All was still and quiet.  "You could hear the water and lots of thunder rumbling as there were storms rolling in off the Gulf," he said. "The waves crashed and there was always a sheen right along the water and sand edge."

Nateghi-Asli wondered how ordinary citizens felt about handling dual crises in one state. When curiosity got to him and he posed this question to the people he met along the way in Louisiana, he got two very different kinds of responses: that drilling is important for the economy, and that wetlands are endangered by this method of getting fuel. Nateghi-Asli says these opposing viewpoints are at the crux of the debate and there may be no easy solution.

"It is a double-edged sword because either way it is affecting the people and the economy."

Editor's Note: This blog post is part of a series of profiles of Gulf Coast residents and visitors directly affected by the oil disaster. If you'd like to share your story, you can upload photos and videos to CNN iReport.

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nsaidi
// June 30, 2010
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Posted in: oil_disaster
Gulf journals: 'I know we are all guilty' »

On the pristine white beaches of Seaside, Florida, a line of people stretches as far as the eye can see. Facing the clear, turquoise waves that crash at their feet, each person clasps the outstretched hand of the person next to them. They’re part of a movement called Hands across the Sand, a campaign to stop offshore oil drilling.

 

At exactly noon on June 26, people on beaches across the United States performed the same simple act for 15 minutes to show their opposition to drilling. The Hands across the Sand movement began in February, with a group of Floridians protesting a proposed end to an oil drilling ban in the waters around the state. But after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, it took on a new life. Groups in California, Connecticut, Florida, and every other state participated in Saturday's event. Even in landlocked states, supporters held hands at designated areas in cities. There were about 700 gathering spots in all.

 

“The founder of Hands across the Sand is a local restaurant owner in my town who is very passionate about stopping offshore drilling,” explained Shelly Swanger of Seaside, who attended the event. “After what happened in the Gulf, his movement really gained support.”

 

The mucky tar balls and smelly oil haven’t yet sullied the picturesque Seaside beaches. But residents have seen the devastation in nearby communities like Pensacola, and Swanger says there was a spirit of unity in the atmosphere at the beach on Saturday, a sense that the community must come together to protect their beautiful home.

 

“The mood was one of community support for keeping our beautiful white beaches and clear blue water clean so that we are all able to enjoy this wonderful place for generations to come,” she said.

 

“I know we are all guilty of using oil,” she added. “I just wish that people could see what is at risk by continuing to deepwater drill in the Gulf of Mexico. There has to be a better way.”

 

Editor's Note: This blog post is part of a series of profiles of Gulf Coast residents and visitors directly affected by the oil disaster. If you'd like to share your story, you can upload photos and videos to CNN iReport.

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rachel8
// June 28, 2010
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Posted in: stories, oil_disaster
Gulf journals: Young girls grasp oil disaster »

 

Crouching in the sand, eight-year-old Anna Jacobs gazes at tar balls while holding her head in her small hands. It is only now that she and her two sisters begin to grasp the magnitude of the oil disaster.

 

Anna, Abby, 10, and Amelia, 4, have grown up scampering along the white sands of Pensacola Beach, Florida. When they heard reports that a deluge of oil had landed on their beach Wednesday morning, the family crossed the street to see the damage.

 

What the Jacobs family saw was a part of the nine-mile swath of oil covering their beloved beach. It is the largest amount of oil to hit Florida’s coast yet.

 

The girls haven’t really understood why they hadn’t been allowed in the water for the past five weeks until they saw the oil-covered beach, says their mom, Kim Jacobs. “They didn’t say much, it was just the way they looked,” she said.

 

To the girls, the water had been pristine and inviting just over a month ago, even though the beach air was tainted with the smell of oil. Kim let her girls wet their feet in the water.

 

When they got home, Kim’s husband said, “You smell like fuel. Go take a shower.” From that point on, the girls were not allowed in water, not even their feet, she said.

 

The strong waft of oil is something the family’s had to get used to. While they’ve lived in their coastal home for 14 years, they worry oil fumes and potential health effects may force them out.

 

“Mommy and Daddy are looking to move somewhere else,” Kim tells her girls. “If we can smell the oil and it’s not going away, we don’t think it’s good for your health and we might move.”

 

Kim says she’s started looking at houses online but hasn’t contacted a realtor yet. She and her husband don’t want to uproot their family until they are sure of the long-term impact.

 

“We’re in a holding pattern,” she said. “We just want to be ready. ... We live on the beach to enjoy it. If you can’t enjoy it, why live there?”

 

Editor's Note: This blog post is part of a series of profiles of Gulf Coast residents and visitors directly affected by the oil disaster. If you'd like to share your story, you can upload photos and videos to CNN iReport.

Posted by:
 
zdan
// June 25, 2010
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Posted in: oil_disaster, stories
Gulf journals: 'Someone's got to do it' »

 

Every morning between 5:30 and 6:00, Gregg Hall goes for a three-mile run on Pensacola Beach. Hall runs right on the coastline to be close to this favorite thing – the ocean. But yesterday, the lifelong Florida resident was too depressed to run.

 

Overnight, oil and tar had washed ashore, covering the sandy-white beach. “This morning was the worst I have seen – the most gut-wrenching and heartbreaking walk on the beach in my entire life,” Hall said.

 

Hall went running on Monday, and said that there was no oil on the beach. He even went snorkeling on Sunday and described the water as being “crystal clear like a swimming pool,” but yesterday morning, Pensacola looked like a different place.

 

He described the oil and tar as being wet, sticking to everything, and washing to shore with each wave. “It is coming in by the dump-truck loads, and it is just disgusting,” he said. “It will just be days before we start seeing wildlife wash up on shore.”

 

The disaster has reminded Hall of a Cree Indian prophecy that he has valued for a long time. The saying goes:

 

"Only after the last tree has been cut down... Only after the last river has been poisoned… Only after the last fish has been caught, only then will you find that money cannot be eaten."

 

For the past couple weeks, Hall has been sharing daily video updates of up-close and personal encounters with the oil disaster through his Facebook page and on YouTube. Many of his followers have expressed concern about him encountering the oil, but Hall simply responds by saying, “Someone’s got to do it.”

 

Hall said that he’s not very concerned about the economics or the politics that go along with this disaster, he just wants people to get the real story; he wants people to know what this disaster really looks like.

 

Editor's Note: Please be careful when encountering oil. Experts recommend that anyone involved in oil spill cleanup wear protective equipment and clothing. This blog post is part of a series of profiles of Gulf Coast residents and visitors directly affected by the oil disaster. If you'd like to share your story, you can upload photos and videos to CNN iReport.

Posted by: ccostello3 // June 24, 2010
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Posted in: stories, oil_disaster
Gulf journals: Going to the story »

 

William Sweezer wants to be a reporter. After watching weeks of coverage of the Gulf Coast oil disaster, he decided to travel from his home in Oakland, California, to get a first-hand view of the spill.

 

The 21-year-old multimedia communications student flew to New Orleans, Louisiana, then rented a car for the two-hour drive to Grand Isle. He was surprised to see oil in the water as he drove over the bridge into the city.

 

"It was more than what I imagined," Sweezer said. "The impression I got from the news and from searching online was that they had stopped it from getting to Grand Isle."

 

On a boat trip around Barataria Bay, he saw workers using heavy equipment to build a protective barrier, booms that had washed out of position, and wildlife living around the muck. He said he couldn't forget the sight of oil floating in the water and clinging to rocks.

 

"There were huge globs of orange crude floating in the water and as soon as you looked up you would see dolphins swimming by and I'm sure it's not good for the dolphins,” Sweezer said.

 

Sweezer was only in Grand Isle for a few days, but he said he met a lot of locals and felt really welcome in the community. He saw several houses and businesses for sale and many people he talked with feared Gulf Coast cities would become ghost towns.

 

Grand Isle native Samantha Lister compared the spill to Hurricane Katrina and said it was hurting business and morale. But she's got no plans to leave.

 

"Once you're born and raised here you never want to leave here," Lister said. "You're just going to stick it out and figure it out."

 

Sweezer shared photos and videos from Barataria Bay and talked to locals at a music festival.He said covering the story was more difficult than he expected, but said it was an invaluable experience.

 

"It did change the way I feel about journalism because between the reporting I was getting to know the people of Grand Isle and I started to feel for them very quickly."

 

Editor's Note: This blog post is part of a series of profiles of Gulf Coast residents and visitors directly affected by the oil disaster. If you'd like to share your story, you can upload photos and videos to CNN iReport.

Posted by:
 
davidw
// June 23, 2010
 11 comments // Add a comment
Posted in: oil_disaster, stories
Gulf journals: Oil or not, life's a beach »

 

Real estate broker Bruce Alexander loves Orange Beach, Alabama, describing its pure white beaches as a "magical place" where he put down roots after living in Chicago and Southern California. He says he's heartbroken about the oil disaster and its effects on the local economy, which includes everything from local stores to hotels to his real estate business.

 

But he fears that people are becoming unnecessarily spooked by reports of oil on beaches. He has gotten quite a few calls from would-be vacationers wondering about beach conditions and hotel reservations. Alexander says that while there is some oil by the water line, most of the sand is clean and there are still plenty of places where swimming is fine.

 

"This is what I tell them: If you're coming down to the beach to work on your suntan, nothing's going to change."

 

To reassure visitors, he started posting video beach reports on CNN iReport and on his realty site's blog. He calls himself a "guerrilla fighter" for the beach. His wife films him standing with the water in the background. The area appears clean and swimmers are nearby.

 

One especially touching video featured Alexander describing the story of a turtle he nicknamed "Momma Turtle" and her journey through a jungle of oil booms and other obstacles to lay more than 100 eggs.

 

Now, he says he gets hundreds of e-mails every day both from people with questions about the beach and with follow-ups that generally thank him for helpful advice. Alexander says he's glad to be able to provide information for people who may have invested a lot of money in a trip. He says he hopes an upcoming Jimmy Buffett concert will contribute to greater interest and confidence in beach tourism. Overall, he just wants people to keep going to the beach.

 

"Come on down, we need your support. If you love the beach, now is the time to come, because we need your help."

 

Editor's Note: This blog post is part of a series of profiles of Gulf Coast residents and visitors directly affected by the oil disaster. If you'd like to share your story, you can upload photos and videos to CNN iReport.

Posted by:
 
nsaidi
// June 22, 2010
 4 comments // Add a comment
Posted in: stories, oil_disaster
Gulf journals: Watching in silence »

Gentle, light-blue waves lapping her feet, Annette Stamm stood in silence as tiny tar balls tumbled ashore. Alongside her, residents and tourists lined the beach, watching helplessly as the oil arrived.

 

The vacationer had come to Fort Walton Beach, Florida, with about 25 family members to celebrate her parents’ 60th wedding anniversary. The family had been planning the getaway for two years. But, when they got there, no one was in the water. The kids couldn’t swim and everyone was disappointed. The family instead focused on enjoying each others’ company, she said.

 

Stamm grabbed a camera and started filming as the color of the tides changed and murky oil encroached the coast. “It really captured the moment,” she said. “It was terrible. Nobody said a word.”

 

The video ignited a spirited conversation on the site and even angered some iReporters. User Blizzusa said, “Those people should have humbled themselves and grabbed a rake. This is our country first and why are we waiting for some foreign company to come clean up the mess?”

 

Stamm, a diving aficionado and beach lover, hasn’t been able to shake the shock and disbelief she felt that day. The scene of floating tar balls in the clear water lingered in her mind.

 

“The hair on my arms just kept standing up for hours,” she said. “It was upsetting because I knew what [the oil] was doing to the environment.”

 

Editor's Note: This blog post is part of a series of profiles of Gulf Coast residents and visitors directly affected by the oil disaster. If you'd like to share your story, you can upload photos and videos to CNN iReport.

Posted by:
 
zdan
// June 21, 2010
 48 comments // Add a comment
Posted in: stories, oil_disaster

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